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Western Journalism

We're members of the University of Western Ontario's master of arts in journalism program. Our blog represents a common theme in stories through our third term.
Western Journalism has written 166 posts for Western Journalism

Inuvialuit using Facebook to communicate.

By Adam Wightman

The Inuit communities of Inuvialuit, a wild, unforgivable region in the tundra of the western Canadian arctic, have long been isolated from the rest of the country—as well as themselves.

Prior to the 1980s, if a person in Inuvik, the largest town in the region, wanted to communicate with one of their friends or family living in any of the other six communities in Inuvialuit, they would have had to use the post.

“Before they had satellite, they wouldn’t have any telephones at all. It would be Canada Post, newspapers, and writing letters to people,” laughed Lucy Kuptana, the executive director of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, which works to settle Inuit land claims within the region.

The introduction of the telephone was obviously a huge step towards intercommunity communication, allowing families to keep regularly in touch. But in the past few years, there is something that is even a larger step for regional communication, a quantum leap for Inuit intercommunity interaction: The Internet and, particularly, Facebook.

“Facebook is pretty huge. It used to be like Bebel and Myspace, but everyone usages Facebook now,” Kuptana says of her people.

One of the things that has made Facebook such a game-changer in the northern life of the Inuvialuk people— the Inuit group from the region—is that it allows them immediate and intimate connection to family members who they otherwise wouldn’t see much, she said.

“With me, I have family that lives right across Canada, from BC to Ontario to New Brunswick. It is great for me because I keep updated and find out what’s going on with family and their children. It’s nice. It’s a nice way to keep in touch.”

With a population of roughly 3,000, Inuvik is the largest town in the Inuvialuit region, which has a total population of around 5,000. It is the only town in the region that one can drive into all year round. Two other communities have ice roads, and so can be accessed by vehicle during the winter months, from December to April—if one is willing to take what can be a treacherous journey. Many cars and hauling trucks have been driven through the ice. And if your vehicle shuts down on-route in a remote area of the road, there could be nothing around for hundreds of miles, leaving you stranded in arctic temperatures, a possible death sentence

But the other three communities can only be accessed by plane. This means that a major barrier for the Inuvialuk has been the howling wilderness that lies between them, unconnected by the infrastructure that us Southern Canadians take for granted everyday.

And social media is changing on that. Where the telephone allowed individuals to talk on a one-to-one basis, Facebook is much more—it provides an open forum where one’s posts and messages can be read by and responded to by anyone who uses the social media. It fosters communication between them, and so is a virtual town hall in cyberspace. It would take incredible organization and effort to bring together all of the region’s people to discuss issues in a physical building. But this is now possible at the click of the mouse and a few punches of the keyboard.

It is for this reason Kuptana’s Inuvialuit Regional Corporation is about to get a Facebook page. They hired Laura Brown as the director of corporate-public relations primarily for that purpose, to help navigate the corporation throughout the world of social media.

For Kuptana, Facebook is a way that can help to develop the human-skill capacity of the Inuvialuit people. Not only will it raise awareness with them of the issues related to the final land claim agreement with the federal government, but also it will allow them to be aware of opportunities to work with the corporation.

“It’s good to communicate and get the messages out there to people. A lot of times people don’t know that a certain job is posted, or there is this certain program is available or a scholarship is available.”

The corporation is looking to use Facebook to hire within the community, and develop the human capital of the region that way, she said.

“We have people who are beneficiaries of the land-claim agreement (those Inuit living in Inuvialuit) who are working for the organization, like myself, rather than hiring from the outside. So that is one of our goals is building capacity from within the communities.”

While Internet is widely used in the region, there are definite challenges remaining its availability. It costs a single house $80 to $90 to use, and some of the communities still have dial-up. So her corporation is pushing to get more Northwest Tel to develop more infrastructures in that regard.  But she see’s bright things for the possibilities unleashed by the new media, she said.

“It’s just a great way to communicate.”

Inuvialuit using Facebook to communicate.

By Adam Wightman

The Inuit communities of Inuvialuit, a wild, unforgivable region in the tundra of the western Canadian arctic, have long been isolated from the rest of the country—as well as themselves.

Prior to the 1980s, if a person in Inuvik, the largest town in the region, wanted to communicate with one of their friends or family living in any of the other six communities in Inuvialuit, they would have had to use the post.

“Before they had satellite, they wouldn’t have any telephones at all. It would be Canada Post, newspapers, and writing letters to people,” laughed Lucy Kuptana, the executive director of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, which works to settle Inuit land claims within the region.

The introduction of the telephone was obviously a huge step towards intercommunity communication, allowing families to keep regularly in touch. But in the past few years, there is something that is even a larger step for regional communication, a quantum leap for Inuit intercommunity interaction: The Internet and, particularly, Facebook.

“Facebook is pretty huge. It used to be like Bebel and Myspace, but everyone usages Facebook now,” Kuptana says of her people.

One of the things that has made Facebook such a game-changer in the northern life of the Inuvialuk people— the Inuit group from the region—is that it allows them immediate and intimate connection to family members who they otherwise wouldn’t see much, she said.

“With me, I have family that lives right across Canada, from BC to Ontario to New Brunswick. It is great for me because I keep updated and find out what’s going on with family and their children. It’s nice. It’s a nice way to keep in touch.”

With a population of roughly 3,000, Inuvik is the largest town in the Inuvialuit region, which has a total population of around 5,000. It is the only town in the region that one can drive into all year round. Two other communities have ice roads, and so can be accessed by vehicle during the winter months, from December to April—if one is willing to take what can be a treacherous journey. Many cars and hauling trucks have been driven through the ice. And if your vehicle shuts down on-route in a remote area of the road, there could be nothing around for hundreds of miles, leaving you stranded in arctic temperatures, a possible death sentence

But the other three communities can only be accessed by plane. This means that a major barrier for the Inuvialuk has been the howling wilderness that lies between them, unconnected by the infrastructure that us Southern Canadians take for granted everyday.

And social media is changing on that. Where the telephone allowed individuals to talk on a one-to-one basis, Facebook is much more—it provides an open forum where one’s posts and messages can be read by and responded to by anyone who uses the social media. It fosters communication between them, and so is a virtual town hall in cyberspace. It would take incredible organization and effort to bring together all of the region’s people to discuss issues in a physical building. But this is now possible at the click of the mouse and a few punches of the keyboard.

It is for this reason Kuptana’s Inuvialuit Regional Corporation is about to get a Facebook page. They hired Laura Brown as the director of corporate-public relations primarily for that purpose, to help navigate the corporation throughout the world of social media.

For Kuptana, Facebook is a way that can help to develop the human-skill capacity of the Inuvialuit people. Not only will it raise awareness with them of the issues related to the final land claim agreement with the federal government, but also it will allow them to be aware of opportunities to work with the corporation.

“It’s good to communicate and get the messages out there to people. A lot of times people don’t know that a certain job is posted, or there is this certain program is available or a scholarship is available.”

The corporation is looking to use Facebook to hire within the community, and develop the human capital of the region that way, she said.

“We have people who are beneficiaries of the land-claim agreement (those Inuit living in Inuvialuit) who are working for the organization, like myself, rather than hiring from the outside. So that is one of our goals is building capacity from within the communities.”

 

While Internet is widely used in the region, there are definite challenges remaining its availability. It costs a single house $80 to $90 to use, and some of the communities still have dial-up. So her corporation is pushing to get more Northwest Tel to develop more infrastructures in that regard.  But she see’s bright things for the possibilities unleashed by the new media, she said.

 

“It’s just a great way to communicate.”

“i, Book” Presentations an iOpener!

On Thursday Apr.12th, all of the hard work that both the Tyee Tablet and Rabble Tablet groups put into creating Tablet series for the news organizations rabble.ca and thetyee.ca was unveiled to the public at the North Campus Building at Western University.

For the Master of Arts in Journalism class of 2011-2012 it was an incredible milestone, not only in term of being able to produce artful tablets using iBooks Author software (that added value to the publications)—-but also because it was the final project for us before graduation!

Karl New introduced both of the groups, and Gillian Wheatley and Matthew Dusenbury led the Tyee and Rabble presentations respectively. Let’s just say that more than a few mouths dropped in awe!

It’s been a wild digital ride, kiddos. But we made it!!!

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Beyond the Brushstrokes

By Matthew Dusenbury

Great artists sign their work.

At the New School of Colour, an art class that operates out of the Ark Aid Street Mission, a young woman is putting the finishing touches on her latest painting. It is a breathtaking landscape of lush-green foliage. A stream flanked by rocks cuts through the centre of the canvas.

There’s just one problem. The woman is unsure where to sign her name, or if she even should at all, as the painting is actually a replica copied from an instructional book.

It’s at that moment of uncertainty that Marshall Custus, a 49-year-old with ink-covered fingertips, pokes his head over her shoulder, and points to one rock in the lower right corner of the painting.

“There,” he tells her. “Hold on.”

Custus disappears for a moment, re-emerging a minute later with a fine-tipped brush. He hands it to the woman, who signs her name on the rock in green oil paint.

“Over time, your work will become unique,” Custus tells her. “And this,” he says, pointing to the signature, “is important for identity.”

Marshall Custus
Photo by Matt Dusenbury
Marshall Custus holds up a drawing of the kitchen where he works.

For Custus, the bi-weekly art sessions are as much about the people as they are about painting. The relationships are an invaluable asset for someone like him who has spent much of his life on the street, on the move, and in disarray.

The New School of Colour was founded by Jeremy Jeresky in 2010 as a way of using art to reach those living with homelessness in the city.

Custus has thrived at the school. So much so, in fact, that Jeresky now considers him his “second-in-command.” It was a place where Custus could not only be artistic, but also help others who had the same aspirations, and life experiences, as himself.

“This place has been so incredibly awesome. For instance, a lot of people here have self-esteem problems. But they leave here with a greater sense of value.”

Custus’ journey to the school was a long one. A self-described army brat with an affinity for music and drawing, Custus spent his childhood following his father for his military career, moving every few years to cities in Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta.

“After a while, you learn not to dread (the constant moving),” he said. “And it gave me a sense of adventure.”

This pattern continued, and Custus ended up in Germany where he began acting out and got into “an awful lot of trouble, mostly out of boredom.” He was then sent to a private school in Belleville, Ont. but was expelled after the first year. When his parents told him not to call home, he had nowhere to go.

So, Custus then came to London where he spent his first few nights in the city on the street.

“When I first came to London, I lived in a cardboard box in Harris Park. It was okay, it was warm,” he recalled. “But I had to get a job. I had to get a place to live.”

Custus spent the next few years in the service sector, working as a dishwasher and then a short-order cook in kitchens around the city. In 1985, he got a job with London Machinery.

Just two years later, however, the company was restructured and Custus was laid off.

“Financially, I didn’t survive that,” he said. “And I lost the drive to do anything.”

For years, Custus was caught in a vicious cycle of poverty, living under bridges, doing anything he could to get by. He lost contact with his daughter and slept on friends’ couches.

The worst blow, said Custus, was to his self-esteem.

“I just sort of existed.”

But despite the years of hardship, Custus never lost his creativity. Even while living on the street, he would draw little sketches of things he saw.

“Because everything was falling apart, I had free time on my hands. And drawing was my interest,” he said.

Custus’ harsh living conditions lasted years and eventually took their toll. What he thought was just a bad cough turned out to be a case of pneumonia, and he went to the Men’s Mission for help. It was there he met a woman who encouraged him to pursue his artistry and told him about the New School of Colour.

“‘There’s this guy doing a grassroots thing at a soup kitchen,’ she told me. “It’ll do you some good.'”

Intrigued, Custus decided to visit the small art studio where he met Jeresky.

Jeremy Jeresky
Photo courtesy of The New School of Colour
Jeremy Jeresky, the program facilitator for the New School of Colour.

A graduate of Western University with a Master of Fine Arts, Jeresky founded the New School of Colour in 2010 as a way of using art to reach those living with homelessness in the city.

“Many art schools are closed off, not social,” said Jeresky. “I take exception to that. With this (the New School of Colour), it’s open to everyone.”

Jeresky imbued the school with a philosophy of social engagement, making it a space where people can be themselves, and feel safe from criticism.

“It’s actually like a family,” he said. “This is a space that’s non-judgmental.”

Beyond the brushstrokes, that sense of community is the real power behind the New School of Colour. For Abe Oudshoorn, an assistant professor at Western University and founder of the London Homelessness Outreach Network, the school provides people with a way to define themselves outside of their living conditions.

“The arts are a way for people to connect, a way they feel they’re adding to society and culture,” said Oudshoorn. “For a lot of people, everything else is just survival, but life is art.”

Though statistics vary, Oudshoorn estimates that on any given night, there are about 2,000 homeless in London, including those in temporary arrangements. And although political solutions are necessary, a big issue is reversing the stigma that people in poverty or on the street are there by their own doing.

Community programs like the New School of Colour are in a unique position to change that.

“I think it does a lot to change people’s perception (of homelessness). Art is a brilliant way to capture imagination and change the stigma.”

Abe Oudshoorn
Photo by Matt Dusenbury
Abe Oudshoorn believes art programs like the New School of Colour provide a sense of community for the homeless.

“This is a one-of-a-kind place,” added another participant at the school, who wished to remain anonymous. “The opportunity to create and learn with other people – it’s incredible.”

By providing a space for creativity and community for people living with homelessness, people regain their sense of value. At least, that’s how Custus sees it.

“It’s not like the street down here,” he said. “Being in this environment, it helps you.”

Now, two years after he first connected with the school, Custus is looking to jumpstart a new career. He is working as a cook at a hotel and beginning a chef apprenticeship at Fanshawe College in the fall.

But, he said, he will make time to come back to the New School of Colour each week, to work on his drawings and catch up with friends. The school has been an instrumental force in his life, and he’s determined to keep it.

“It’s a big change from a few years ago, when I thought I didn’t have a lot of worth,” he said.

“Sure, I need a job. But I plan to get to the point where I have a day job and art is the real focus. That’s my signature.”

T’was the night before iBook presentations…

The rabble.ca iBook team leader, Matt Dusenbury, fields questions on how far the project has evolved and what he’s learned throughout the process. He also answered how this will help the class as we venture out into our careers and how it’ll set us apart in the new age of journalism, where technology plays such an important role.

There’s no more room: the decline of MySpace

Susie Hill


Back in the year 2006 MySpace was the coolest kid on the social network block. Forget going to night clubs or the mall, the young generation were starting to hang out in a more public place, online.

“My social life pretty much revolved around MSN and MySpace in college, now I can’t even remember those passwords,” said Christopher Hayduk, 32, a city worker from Vancouver, BC in a Skype interview.

Hayduk’s sentiments about MySpace pretty much sum up the former social media giant’s chaotic and relatively short lifespan.

Founded in 2003, MySpace rose to popularity at a time when people were just discovering the benefits of connecting online. It offered users the opportunity to create a profile, list interests and meet others. Time magazine even named MySpace one of the top 50 ‘coolest’ web sites of 2006. Fast-forward just a few years later though, and the same site was struggling to survive. At the height of its decline it lost over ten million users in one month, according to ComScore figures reported by the Daily Telegraph. So, the obvious question here is: what the heck happened? How does a site degenerate into a has-been, and could it ever pull off a Mickey Rourke-like recovery?

Some blamed the demise of MySpace on its traditional corporate structure that began with its takeover by Newscorp in 2005. Then between its quick sale and resale by Newscorp it lost its hip image, drive and most importantly, the passion of its users.

However, according to Marcus Messner, a professor of social media and mass communications at Virginia Commonwealth University, the death of MySpace was primarily due to a lack of innovation and downright laziness on the part of the company.

“MySpace became complacent and did not innovate, other social networks like Facebook constantly change,” said Messner.

That’s why it’s difficult for old-school users like Chris Hayduk, to imagine using MySpace to the same degree he did back in its heyday.

“There’s nothing I can do on MySpace that I can’t do better somewhere else, on some other site,” said Hayduk.

But MySpace is still striving to find a new niche, and this time it has chosen to focus on music and television. Pop sensation and new MySpace co-owner Justin Timberlake unveiled the new direction of the site at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. MySpace television and music sharing allows people to suggest music and watch shows with their friends. Instead of offering friendship networking, the site offers a communal entertainment experience. It also offers up-and- coming artists a place to showcase their work. What’s so new about this you may ask? Well, that’s just the thing said Messner, not much is new at all.

“These changes are in a niche and at a very low user rate…MySpace has already tried to reinvent itself as a music portal under Newscorp.”

Indeed, MySpace is like an adolescent trying to find its place in a very changed world. It has gone back and forth from one niche to another for half a decade. People are fickle, the future is now and we all want the very latest. This isn’t the year 2003; we live in an age where the average household has more than one computer. Or, as Messner puts it,

“Just think about all of the changes we have gone through during just the last few months. MySpace lost its appeal, one demographic at a time. Facebook first won over college students and then moved from generation to generation until everyone had a Facebook account.”

In fact, the coolest thing about Facebook, which ultimately knocked MySpace off its throne according to Messner, is that it wasn’t really trying to get you to do anything. Facebook started out simple and focused, much like Twitter a few years later.

“I first liked Facebook because I could creep on people….I mean I could waste hours just looking at useless stuff about people,” said Chris Hayduk.

It seems that many are more entertained by the lives of acquaintances and friends than the latest television drama.

“If people want to watch videos, music and television, that’s what YouTube is for,” said Hayduk.

Confusion seems to be what killed MySpace. That is, confusion as to what they are as a social media site and what they want to become. Messner points out that a social media platform needs to constantly re-invent without irritating its users to a point where they will leave.

For instance, Google Plus seemed to pose a serious challenge to Facebook when it was released last summer. But Facebook reacted quickly and implemented its own changes to face this challenge by the largest Internet company in the world. Just look what this has done to Google Plus… after much initial hype it is still a tekkie platform that has not attracted the average internet user to stay around.

“In contrast to MySpace, Facebook has managed to defend its lead because it has maintained an innovative culture while being on top,” said Messner.

Or, to put it simply in Hayduk’s words,

“MySpace is just so 2000.”

Dying on welfare

By Aaron Rathbone
arathbon@uwo.ca

Susan Eagle, a minister and former London city councillor, remembers a time when she officiated over a funeral for someone who couldn’t afford the costs.

“We did the funeral with the dollars that (the city) provided. When I went to the funeral home to set up the funeral, I was informed that the money did not include visitation.”

The woman who died was young and left behind three little children. Eagle told the people at funeral home that it was terribly important that there be a visitation for the sake of the children so they could have some closure. “At the time, I remember thinking who sets the rules that says visitation isn’t included as part of the basic package because isn’t that stupid.”

The funeral home agreed to her suggestion.

Rev. Susan Eagle says it’s important for the poor to be treated fairly in their last rites. (Photo courtesy of ISARC).

In Canada, dying can be an expensive affair. For those who are financially unstable, a funeral can be a daunting expense. But poor families are not without options when it comes to saying goodbye to loved ones, as municipalities offer financial assistance to those in need.

According to Statistics Canada, the funeral business in 2010 was worth approximately $1.66 billion. In that same year, Ontario accounted for nearly half of that total. The Registered Persons Database for the Ontario ministry of health and long-term care indicates the annual death total in the province to be more than 80,000 people.

The costs of a funeral vary greatly depending on the type of service a family asks for and the associated items selected. For example, caskets can range from $1,000 to more than $10,000, and the average costs for a full service funeral are just under $5,000, says Doug Manners, funeral director at Donohue Funeral Home in London, Ont. If you add those prices together and include taxes, the cost of a funeral can be considerable.

From 2008 to 2011, London provided funding for between 170 and 190 individual funerals each year, says Jackie Van Ryswyk, manager of intake and discretionary benefits.

The amount of money provided for funerals varies between municipalities, but in London $3,605, excluding taxes, is granted to eligible families, in addition to the cost of the burial or cremation, which can cost another $1,000. The $3,605 covers the removal of the body and the basic care of the deceased, a two-hour visitation, a service – with the possibility of a member of the clergy – a newspaper notice and other documentation, says Van Ryswyk.

Manners has been a licensed funeral director for 20 years. For as long as he has been in that job, municipalities have provided assistance for people who cannot afford a funeral. Manners estimates Donohue Funeral Home served about eight or 12 families through the funeral program offered by discretionary benefits last year.

“With any family we don’t make any assumptions or considerations from a financial standpoint,” says Manners. “Our first priority is looking after that family.”

Before a person can receive funding, discretionary benefits must deduce that the person is eligible. “We look at assets and bank accounts. We need to verify that type of information,” says Van Ryswyk. “If they’re receiving assistance we know that, and they may be approved right over the phone.”

Once a person is approved, discretionary benefits provides a funeral home of the family’s choice with a funeral order number. After this stage, the family is left to decide how the funeral will be carried out. “We provide the funeral home with the order number and then the bill will come to us,” says Van Ryswyk.

Eagle, who now lives in Barrie, remembers there being a showdown between the city and the funeral homes in her last year on council in 2010.  She says the funeral homes sent a joint letter demanding an increase in the amount of money the city offered for assisted funerals. “They were basically demanding that there be an increase or they were going to refuse to do funerals on behalf of people in the community.”

This past February, the city raised the amount of funding it will provide to the current $3,605. Before then the city paid up to $2,270, a price that was set in 2004, according to numbers provided by John Donohue, manager of Donohue Funeral Home. Before then the amount was $1,823, a price that had been around since 1992.

Van Ryswyk believes providing funeral assistance is an important aspect of discretionary benefits. “We deal with a very vulnerable population that doesn’t have a lot of resources. So I think it’s important that we provide that service for families like that in their time of need.”

“People need closure, they need the opportunity to deal with death,” adds Eagle, who has been a minister in the United Church for 30 years. “Most of us know that a funeral is not for the person that died; it’s for the family.”

Manners believes it’s the duty of the funeral home to look after each family no matter their individual financial situations. He says he knows of many times when the funeral home would provide a service that was not part of what was provided through social assistance, including additional time for visitation or transportation.

Doug Manners believes that every family in need should be treated the same. (Photo courtesy of Donohue Funeral Home).

In broaching the topic of expenses Manners says experience counts. “You learn a lot about people in spending a bit of time with them,” he says. “People make comments, or they may have a look on their face, or they may ask, ‘you know, how do you want to be paid, or when do we have to pay, or I don’t really know how we can do this.’”

“The last thing I’d want anyone to do is to find themselves in financial hardship to provide a funeral for a member of their family,” he says.

But the discrepancies between the actual cost and government provisions are significant. By providing the exact same level of service for families receiving assistance, the funeral homes operate at what ends up being a financial loss, says Manners.

“Our concern is not the quality of service or the level of service. We’re here always to look after the families that come to ask us for help, regardless of their financial situation and regardless for who is paying,” he says.

The rates and terms of assistance for families who cannot afford to pay for a funeral varies between municipalities. In London, the city does not dictate to families what they are entitled to but offers a base level from which the family can upgrade at their own expense. This differs from the GTA for example, where Manners also worked, where the cities decide what the family gets and does not allow for variation.

When Eagle was still in London, she was at odds with the policy of setting restrictions on what was provided by the city. “Most of our clergy are willing to volunteer to do something. But on the other hand here’s the government expecting that everybody else will pick up the pieces,” she says. “There’s a little bit of thought there, like, what’s in it for the government to make it that undignified for people. It makes it a different funeral than a regular funeral.”

It’s difficult to define just what a dignified funeral is, because it’s all based on the impression or opinion of the individual, says Manners.

In his opinion, it shouldn’t matter whether the family is receiving assistance or is paying $10,000 or more — everyone is entitled to the same treatment.

“What I know for certain is the way that things are done here, regardless of the type of funeral someone is having, our approach to provide that dignity is the same. So everyone in my mind receives a dignified funeral.”

Making music last

By Greg Colgan
gcolgan@uwo.ca

Richard Cox sits on a stool in his workshop as he hits the green button to turn on his scroll saw.

The machine begins to whirl as he gently holds a piece of Ontario oak and slowly moves it as the saw whittles away the wood and begins the first step in transforming it into an Irish flute.

It’s a process that Cox has done several times since 2005, when he first started making flutes. Since then, he has sold 169 flutes, which gives him pride in knowing that throughout North America his instruments are being used to make music and entertain people.

The process of making a flute is one that takes patience and dedication, often taking weeks to complete, he says, but for Cox, it’s one of the few ways he maintains a Celtic presence in his life in a home that’s thousands of kilometres away from his native Dublin.

Before he sells them, Richard Cox tests each instrument to make sure they’re ready to be played (Photo courtesy of Richard Cox).

“It’s a huge satisfaction to hear somebody play it well at a Céilídh (a traditional Gaelic social gathering) or an event,” said Cox with a smile. “That’s my flute, it’s great.”

“The music is certainly part of the Irish culture,” said Cox. “There was a time when we didn’t have very much culturally, but we had our music and we had our language and those things are very much part of the development and maintenance of a people.”

Cox said he had musical experience from playing in accordion bands as a child in Ireland and continuing to play other instruments as he grew older, but had never played the flute.

As a member of the London Irish Folk Club, Cox looks to his Irish background as a reason for making these instruments.

Cox originally started calling his flutes Irish due to his heritage, even though what he makes aren’t traditional instruments of his native country.

“My making is very much bound up in that. I started from the beginning calling it Irish flutes. There’s nothing Irish about it except that maybe Irish people will play it,” said Cox. “The old traditional instruments are the harps and uilleann pipes and the fiddle and flute came later.”

Although primarily known for his flutes, Cox has also made other musical instruments like classical guitars, mandolins, bodhrans (a small handheld drum made with goatskin and a wooden frame), bouzoukis (an eight string guitar similar to the mandolin, but with a lower pitched sound) and mandolas (an eight string teardrop shaped guitar that’s half the size of an acoustic guitar).

As a craftsman, Cox has been working with wood since the 1960s. Although he began with more traditional forms of woodworking like millwork, cabinetmaking and furniture, he gradually moved towards musical instruments in the 1970s.

Some of Richard Cox's handmade instruments are displayed against his family crest. (Photo courtesy of Richard Cox).

His flutes can cost anywhere from $300 to $750 depending on the style a person chooses and the type of wood. Other instruments like the bodhran can cost as much as $1,000 and mandolins and mandolas upwards of $900.

It was after he took a night class with the Irish harp maker Jan Muyllaert in Navan, Ireland in 1972, that Cox began to craft instruments as a hobby. But he always wanted to give himself more time to make them, he said.

Cox, 65, is close to retirement as a craftsman and only works two days a week at his job. He’s unsure how long he’ll continue to make the instruments and is hopeful that an apprentice will come along to fill any void that he leaves.

He said he hopes one of his four daughters carry on the legacy he has created and is inspired to do it. However, it may be a few years until that will happen due to the time and training it would take, he said.

Among the several musicians playing his flutes, Jane Mettham, of London, began using Cox’s instruments after she went to the London Irish Folk Club about five years ago. As a lifelong musician, she said it was a natural progression to try instruments from a musically inclined culture like Ireland’s.

By talking with other musicians in the club, she found out that Cox made instruments and went to see if he would make one for her.

He initially gave her one to try to make sure his flute was for her. After four weeks of trials, Mettham came back to have one made.

As a trained musician for nearly four decades, she said she’s more inclined to play with handcrafted instruments because there’s a greater feeling of awareness with the instruments.

“I appreciate it more because it’s handmade and I know the person who made it. I’ve seen his work and I know he’s a good craftsman,” said Mettham of Cox’s instruments. “You just appreciate the fact that there were a number of hours that went into it. You appreciate that more than something you pick up at a music store you have no connection with.”

Richard Semmens, a professor of music in Western University’s Don Wright faculty of music, says handcrafted instruments offer a connection between musicians and their instruments.

“The relationship between a performer and their instrument is very intimate and they speak to each other,” said Semmens. “When I play my instrument I can hear it talk to me. When I play a lower quality instrument I talk to it, but it doesn’t talk to me.”

Semmens, who received his doctorate from Stanford University in 1980 and teaches music history, said handcrafted instruments are likely to be the only type trained musicians will use.

“For the very best instruments, the one that classically trained musicians would use, they almost always insist on instruments that are hands on and crafted to a specification.”

Cox was first asked by his friend Tony O’Callahan of Studio Celtia on Wellington Street to craft flutes because O’Callahan was looking for Irish flutes to sell in his store. Since there were few flute makers, he asked Cox because of his background with creating musical instruments from scratch.

“You improve things as you go along; there’s still some things that I see a better way of doing them and I will change them,” said Cox. “You learn how to do something and do it that way until you find a better way.”

Richard Cox plays one of his mandolas while his friend, Glenn Wray, plays a bodhran. (Photo courtesy of Richard Cox).

Cox described the process as a “long period of trial and error” and he had to invent his own equipment since the tools to make many of the instruments simply don’t exist.

Though Cox can no longer remember the first time he saw someone play one of his instruments, there was one moment when he realized the power his instruments can have.

“I was at the Summerfolk festival in Owen Sound about five years ago. A guy came into the booth and he was a cook at one of the food tents,” said Cox. “He still had his apron on and he was all dirty from his work.

“He picked up (one of my) flutes and he knocked sparks out of that flute, absolute fabulous player,” said Cox. “My jaw dropped, my eyes opened, it was absolutely fantastic.”

After that he realized the capabilities that his flutes can have when in the hands of a trained musician.

With few flute makers left, with the exception of a handful in the United States and Ireland and one in Australia, Cox is one of the last of a kind.

Still, after all his years of making flutes, Cox enjoys seeing his flutes be played to a crowd.

“It’s great, wonderful. I’m a quiet-keep-to-myself-work-away-in-my-shop type of guy, but it’s a very nice feeling having over 150 flutes out there being played.”

Wondering what an Irish flute sounds like? Take a listen to Seamus Tansey.

B-Boying in Toronto

Unity Charity in Toronto is offering a break dancing–or ‘b-boying’– program that aims to get kids off the street and involved in the art. In addition to b-boying, the charity offers workshops in graffiti art, mc-ing (rapping) and dj-ing. Click here for the full story

The Canned Festival Wednesday 11th April!

Join us today for the Canned Festival – a celebration of the work done by the journalism students specializing in television and radio.  We will be running the stories they produced this term starting at 10 a.m. in the television studio, Room 283 NCB.

Please check out the stories at http://fims.uwo.ca/canned_fest/  and feel free to come and watch or listen to the stories that interest you.

If you wish to have a look (or listen) to the stories from your desk (if you can’t get down to the Studio) here are the options.

Microsoft Media Player  (either Windows or for Mac [Mac version has to be downloaded and installed from the Microsoft side]

 http://content.fims.uwo.ca/streaming/livetv/silverlight.html

On IOS tablet or phone

http://content.fims.uwo.ca/streaming/liveTV/apple.htm

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